Following up on our previous barley wine review today we’re trying a couple of minor local barley wines. First up is the Harvestmoon Barley Wine, and after that we’ll try the limited promotional release Minamishinshu Wonder Berley “Akane”.
Harvestmoon Barley Wine (ハーヴェストムーン・バーリーワイン)
Package: 330mL bottle
Pour – Dark deep red, almost no carbonation
Aroma – Malts, sour plum, a bit like red wine actually
Flavor – Initially some malts, then lots of cherries, sweet and tart finish, a little bit medicine-y on the finish, very very flat
Some time ago we actually reviewed the Harvestmoon Black Barley Wine, which ended up starting out fairly interesting but then lost its mojo pretty quickly. The regular barley wine is, like the black, an autumn seasonal, and they both clock in at a rather mild-for-barley wine 8% ABV. Let’s see how the barley wine does.
Similar to the Black Barley Wine, the Harvestmoon Barley Wine starts out as a very interesting beer. First off, the aroma has some very interesting cherry/grape/plum aspects to it and actually resembles red wine a bit – it even looks like red wine. The first impression on the taste is also cherries and tartness, which is actually quite pleasant and interesting. However, also like the Black Barley Wine, it doesn’t do well over time. The finish begins to turn a bit sickly sweet, kind of like cough syrup, and this aspect of it worsens as it warms up. Also, it’s very very flat, which also contributes to the syrupy feel to it, and it could definitely use some more carbonation. An interesting attempt at a barley wine, if not entirely successful.
In terms of purchasing, I bought this at Tanakaya, but I’ve also seen this at Liquors Hasegawa – both of these liquor stores stock Harvestmoon seasonals fairly reliably, while Liquors Hasegawa also stocks Harvestmoon regular beers. At 787 yen it’s an OK price for a barley wine in general, but as this isn’t a great barley wine I wouldn’t say it’s really worth the money.
Minamishinshu Wonder Berley “Akane” (南信州ビール・ワンダーバーレイ茜)
Package: 330mL bottle
Pour – Ruby grapefruit, cloudy with lots of sediment, moderate carbonation
Aroma – Lots of pine hops, somewhat fruity, nice aroma
Flavor – Light malts, followed by some fruits, but finishes bitter with some faint roast
On first glance, Minamishinshu doesn’t seem like the most likely brewer here to try a barley wine. Stylistically they’re kind of all over the map, with their Dunkel Weizen being their most highly rated beer on RateBeer, and producing other German-style beers like weizens and Oktoberfest beers. However, they also have an American-style IPA, an amber ale, and a porter, among others, so I suppose why not a barley wine?
Of course, you’ll notice pretty quickly that the label for the Wonder Berley Akane (and of course, I assume that’s a misspelling of “Barley” there) isn’t really the usual clean silver look that Minamishinshu normally use for their labels. Instead it’s a fairly loud label with lots of Batman pow thought bubbles that proclaim how awesome this beer is. While Minamishinshu is clearly featured in the label (with their classic Minamishinsyu banner with the old romanization style of “syu”), there’s also a fairly noticeable “TOUCH! WOWOW” logo that jumps out at you.
So what is this TOUCH! WOWOW hubbub? If you live in Japan you’ll recognize WOWOW as one of the main pay cable stations in Japan. They run movie channels and news channels, but as a sports fan I come across them most often for having the broadcast rights to La Liga, the NBA, and the tennis Grand Slam tournaments.
And why are they producing a beer with Minamishinshu? Actually, that’s a good question. There doesn’t appear to be any real logic to it, but it’s part of the TOUCH! WOWOW campaign which is one of those free cable trial campaigns – 11 hours free of WOWOW x 3 channels, which they’ve calculated as 33 free hours, which only comes out to 33 hours if you can either watch 3 channels at once or get your DVR to record 3 channels simultaneously for 11 hours. Does this free cable promotion deserve a beer? Well, as their slogan is “That’s Wondertainment!” (ザッツ・ワンダーテインメント) I suppose the only possible answer is yes.
Language note – we’ve already touched upon the misspelling of barley, but you might be wondering what “Akane” means. In the Japanese name of the beer they use the kanji 「茜」, which not only can be a female name in Japanese but also means a darkish red color. As is probably not coincidental this beer is basically that color, so aside from the “Berley” the name works, I suppose.
The Minamishinshu Wonder Berley Akane is a fine barley wine with a fairly complex flavor profile. The malts are there, there’s lots of fruit, the hops are there, and there’s even a hint of roast and nuttiness. On the whole the plum/fruit aspects are probably the strongest, although the hop bitter finish is also a plus. It’s not the most exciting barley wine out there, and I find that the range of flavors is very nice but that on the whole for a high ABV beer I would prefer a bit more stimulation. It’s certainly decent, and a pretty good effort that I wouldn’t be shy about trying again, so it may be perhaps a bit nitpicky to complain about it not being bold enough.
Finding the Wonder Berley is something else, though – I bought mine at Tanakaya, which tends to stock Minamishinshu seasonals fairly reliably, but the only other place I saw it was at the Shinshu Osake-mura, which I don’t believe I’ve mentioned before, but they are the best in terms of carrying Minamishinshu and Tamamura Honten limited releases both as soon as possible and also probably at the best price around town. So yeah, get your Minamishinshu beers there if you can’t find them anywhere else.
With the Harvestmoon Barley Wine proving too much like cough syrup to really be a contender, the Minamishinshu Wonder Berley wins this round. In fact, I’d probably place it ahead of the Baird Ganko Oyaji Barley Wine, so if we were keeping track the standings would look something like this:
- SanktGallen el Diablo
- Minamishinshu Wonder Berley “Akane”
- Baird Ganko Oyaji Barley Wine
- Harvestmoon Barley Wine
Tamamura Honten just released a barley wine collaboration with Hair of the Dog, so we’ll be reviewing that soon, but other than that one and the Daisen G barley wine I’m having trouble thinking of other barley wines here that are bottled. Hopefully we’ll find some more to review next year!